During the last decade-plus, the NC Chamber (i.e. the group once known as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry) has been a consistent voice for reactionary and regressive state policies — particularly in the realm taxes and public investments. Under the leadership of Lew Ebert, the Chamber has consistently allied itself with the anti-government Right and abandoned its historic commitment to making our state’s public structures work for everyone.
Last week, however, Ebert announced his retirement and this morning, an excellent editorial on WRAL.com calls for a change of direction at the Chamber. This is from “Time for N.C. Chamber’s race to the middle”:
Lew Ebert’s resignation as head of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce last week has been greeted with something between indifference and silence. That’s unfortunate. It is an important story.
We have often been critical of the Chamber’s actions in the last five years. It has been missing in action. In return for huge business tax cuts, it has agreed to stay silent and follow instructions from the legislative leadership.
The Chamber should return to its critical role of leadership in supporting programs that invest in the future, not broad-based state dis-investment.
It should promote a pro-growth climate that recognizes that quality public schools, broadly available health care and investing in transportation, sustainable energy and other infrastructure needs are a part of that climate. And the Chamber should support a tax policy that produces the revenue the state needs to carry out its mission.
The next president the Chamber picks should be someone who has an intuitive understanding of the civic obligation that North Carolina business leaders previously recognized. That leadership led the state, until recently, into regional and national success in economic development, advancements in early childhood and public education as well as other areas of government services that enhance quality of life.
The Chamber’s silence on the legislature’s ban on expanding Medicaid to more than a half-million North Carolinians who need it has been cruel and bad business. It has cost the state $11.51 billion in lost federal funds and meant more than 67,000 jobs have not been created since the ban was implemented. The failure to act has accelerated the closing of hospitals that served many rural areas. That is not pro-business.
The Chamber now has an opportunity to lead the state back to the middle– where North Carolina’s business leaders have traditionally been – and where the legislature should be.
It will take work. The Chamber watched while the legislature ran us in the ditch on the right side of the road. It will be hard to climb out of that ditch.
Ebert’s resignation marks a time for the state Chamber to make a much needed and very-necessary course correction. The Chamber’s board is made up of some of North Carolina’s most successful business executives. They are steering the ship.